Chef Nikki Steward is a lot of things, but she’s definitely not your typical weed chef. As a self-proclaimed “alchemist”, Chef Nikki is a highly regarded celebrity chef and a connoisseur of elevated cannabis-infused, high-end experiences. She has found a way to marry her lifelong love for food with her reverence for the science behind cannabis. Beyond working for celebrities like Dave Chappelle, DJ Khaled and Questlove, Chef Nikki has also made a name for herself with The High End Affair, “a touring cannabis culinary entertainment brand that brings together the cannabis industry influencers for an evening of food and networking,” per her website. A trendsetter, vibe creator, and staunch advocate for women in the kitchen, Chef Nikki is set on setting the tone for elevating the cannabis dining experience, while spreading the gospel of safely consuming plant medicine.

(C) Chef Nikki

An Interview With Chef Nikki: Culinary Cannabis, Alchemy, And The High End Affair

HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: How did you make your way into the culinary industry?

CHEF NIKKI: My initial field of study was Pharmaceutical Sciences, so I was in that space before I pushed into culinary. I worked in the pharmacy space until I was about 27 or 28, then decided to change careers and become a chef. I've always cooked, and I would always host dinner parties. I started with the proverbial selling plates in college.

After I changed careers, I studied culinary in different countries like Thailand. I incorporate a lot of Southeast Asian cuisine into my aesthetic. I went everywhere and learned by working under other chefs. I did not go to culinary school because I had a general understanding. For me, food is science. It wasn't that far off from pharmacy, and understanding basic ingredients and how to put them together. So I decided to just get in the kitchen and work. I was already a working mother of two by then.

A lot of people continually encouraged me to get into catering. But at some point, I had someone whisper into my ear that there was a need for different types of higher-end events geared toward celebrities. So I started doing that, but in between, I was working for Dave Chappelle [and] on tour with DJ Khaled.

That's how I got my name out in the culinary space because I had been doing private chef services and grandiose events. I've also been an executive chef at restaurants. I've pretty much done it all. But I'm settled where I am right now, doing events and working for Dave. I get some pretty exciting opportunities to feed people.

What made you decide to try adding cannabis to your repertoire as a chef?

(C) Chef Nikki

I've always been adding cannabis into food, but on a larger scale, the first ever [cannabis] event I was asked to do was for Snoop [Dogg]. It was 250 people, an infused dinner party about seven or eight years ago. That's when I started doing it in that capacity.

The thing about cannabis and food is I've been doing it for a while, but understanding the science behind it is different for me. Some people just like to throw weed in food. And I'm like, No, fuck that. You got to do the math, you got to do the science—you got to do the work behind it.  You got to understand physiology, the body, safety, and mindfulness. It's also taken me years to get the pattern down in which I operate. I don't just come into an event like, ‘Oh, okay, it's like 100 people here,’ and just sprinkle it in there. I'm literally with a notebook and a calculator, writing down all of my specs because I usually have multiple courses. You have to have a certain amount of milligrams per person, per course and per ratio.

How do you navigate working in two male-dominated industries?

[As] a Black woman in the culinary space, it hits me hard because…in the tiers of the hierarchy of chefs, Black and brown women are at the bottom. And typically, we taught [them] how to cook for sure. Our food history [and] our food IP is always erased and taken over and regurgitated in some other format.

Everyone that works for me in the kitchen is a woman, and that's period, point blank. I keep my kitchen predominantly Black and brown women, but my kitchen is open to any woman, honestly. I’ve been very intentional about creating a safe space for women in culinary in order to get them to realize that they are much better than they think that they are. I would say that the women in my kitchen are some fucking badasses with different stories—all very different from me. We all do our own therapy together and try to heal from the traumas that we've had in kitchens…We're all in a very communal, harmonious energy.

In the cannabis space, it’s completely different. [Among Black people] I think that our brains are so saturated in thinking that we have to have a dispensary or a grow, as opposed to thinking about all the ancillary things that are happening around cannabis that we can be really successful at. So I've had to combat that.

What differentiates your process for creating infused meals from other chefs?

I more or less consider myself an alchemist… since an alchemist is someone who understands plants and how to create harmonious relationships between the two. They [also have] a level of responsibility for guests or clients because you are their conduit for healing.

I feel the weight of people at my events. I feel the weight of their energy—of them releasing. A part of that is me also holding space while you're having dinner. I want to make sure you get home, and I also [ensure] that you hit me back, like, ‘That was the best time of my life.’

I also do psychedelic conferences because it's important for me to talk about how to safely use plant medicine. So I work with a group called Oakland Hyphae and The Ancestor Project. I talk about psychedelic parenting all across the country, how to safely use psychedelics as a parent to deal with day-to-day or to reset.

I do feel like there's a weight of responsibility for what I'm doing. And not because I'm just trying to follow guidelines. It's more like the ancestors put me in this space to be here. So it's only right for me to do this to the best of my ability.

Do you have any advice for prospective cannabis entrepreneurs or anyone interested in getting into fine dining?

A lot of people send me messages and emails about wanting to work with me or they feel like they could do what I'm doing. I have an initial little smirk because I'm like, ‘You do not understand how hard [I worked] and how long it took me to get to this point.’ The one thing that sustains me and keeps me consistent is [knowing] the reason why I'm here. Because I didn't get into cannabis for money. It was more like a journey for me...more connected to the soul. Not to say that I never fail, but I'm still protected. And I'm always expressing gratitude because I know why I'm here. I'm always reminding myself of my purpose. And that goes for both cannabis and culinary. Being in the culinary space is not lightweight. We're doing real backbreaking work.

A lot of people are surprised that I'm still in the kitchen as much as I am. Number one, this is my name, and my brand, so why would I not be here? Number two, I still get joy out of working randomly. It's still a safe space, a quiet space. If I'm frustrated, I will get in the kitchen and cook. I turned a hobby into a career and I don't hate it. You have to have checks and balances in order for you not to hate it. Gratitude is one of my checks and balances. And I lead with consistency. I think that that's important because a lot of people start off strong, but they're not finishers. And the one thing that my entire kitchen always hears me say is ‘finish’, because completion is a real thing.

Any new projects that you’re excited about?

We're doing our first event in Cape Town, South Africa this year at a vineyard. We have been working on this event for a couple of years now, and finally, we're getting to the point where it's coming to fruition. Essentially the new version of The High End Affair is focusing on more international experiences.

We also have Thailand and already have sponsors coming. People are really excited about the one in Bangkok and then we're also doing Phuket. Since I did my culinary studies in Thailand, I'm pretty connected to a lot of those folks there.

The interesting thing is, we get connected to folks in the government space. Sometimes I find myself consulting with different government organizations on the safe consumption of noncombustible forms of cannabis. I've been asked by different countries in a lot of different places to bring these experiences there; we're ensuring we are operating within the correct legal framework. Cannabis is not the same everywhere, so I have to work with folks in certain countries to get the products that I need.  I use nano bioavailability products. That way, I can get you higher, faster, and in less time. My time is usually within 15 minutes on the onset. And then I can play with your physiology for the next four hours.

(C) Chef Nikki

We'll also be doing plant medicine retreats. We're doing our first one at the Rohan Marley Beach House in Puerto Morales, Mexico, and I'm working on one in Costa Rica. These are all just part of The High End Affair’s experiences. The International stuff is going to be the biggest play ever, as soon as we can get out and start making money in other places. I've been trying to tell people that I've been the Madam C.J. Walker of culinary cannabis for the longest because I’ll just get myself out there, and see. I don't mind being the trailblazer and laying the framework for everyone else. I really do feel like I'm doing this work just to pave the way for others and I don't mind being that person because I don't move in fear or scarcity. There were some people who told me I was going to jail when I first started. A lot of people were scared for me, including my own parents. But, I’ve turned everyone around me into a believer. My mission is always to save the hood and to convert people from synthetic materials and drugs over to plant medicines.

For more information, visit or follow @thechefnikki and @thehighendaffair on Instagram.

A version of this article was originally published in Honeysuckle's 16th print edition. Click here to get your copy now!

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Featured image: (C) Chef Nikki